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Various news outlets are reporting that the stalemate in Guadeloupe has taken a turn for the worse, with protesters clashing with riot police, cars burning and shops being looted. Neither the demonstrators nor the government seems willing to budge on one of the main points of contention: a raise for low-paid workers.
Partly hampering the government’s efforts to end to the protest over high living costs — which has spread to neighboring Martinique — is the wide support the movement seems to be enjoying and the sense that people are fighting a just cause. A French radio station with a correspondent on the ground in Guadeloupe was reporting that mothers and grandmothers were even helping to set up barricades in the roads.
Like many others, Marie-Christine Berthol de Mercico — a Paris resident who was born in France but raised on Martinique — said the events unfolding today are a result of years of feeling as though the government has ignored their anger and consternation over perceived disparities between the island and the mainland. To illustrate the deep-seated resentment that some French West Indians might harbor as a result, she offered this anecdote from her childhood:
She was only about 8 years old when the directive reached local officials in Martinique that France would be changing clocks to adjust to daylight savings time for the year’s energy crisis and the overseas department needed to do likewise. The island representative told Paris that the rule could not apply, because the amount of daylight hours remains the same from season to season in the tropical Caribbean and there would be no advantage to the change. Islanders fussed but the mainland government insisted.
After two days of people waking in the dark and going to bed while the sun was still shining, threats of a general strike finally tabled the measure and Paris relented, said Berthol, 42.
“It was so ridiculous,” she said. “They [protesters] broke lights; they revolted. All this, to make themselves heard.”
They seem to have the government's attention now. When he addressed the strike directly for the first time on Feb. 13, French President Nicolas Sarkozy acknowledged those sentiments and pledged to find solutions.
A meeting at Elysee Palace with local and parliamentary officials from Guadeloupe and Martinique is scheduled for Feb. 19, according to the president’s calendar. But first, Sarkozy will meet on Feb. 18 with union and labor officials, as he promised during a televised interview on Feb. 5 to further respond to the concerns of those who took to the streets on the mainland in January to express their displeasure with his handling of the economic crisis.